Ultimate Parents' Guide to Video Games

The release of the violent "Manhunt 2" has sitrred controversy within the gaming industry. We offer some information on video game ratings and lingo that you might find helpful when you or your child are shopping for new video games.


The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, is like the Motion Picture Association of America. It sets the ratings for video games, like the MPAA sets ratings for movies.

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If you're a parent, or buying for a child, pay attention, these ratings are important. While you may never have played a game, and don't understand how or why they could be inappropriate, these ratings were designed to empower consumers to make educated decisions.

The ESRB ratings are as follows:

EARLY CHILDHOOD Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.

EVERYONE Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

EVERYONE 10+ Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

TEEN Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

MATURE Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

ADULTS ONLY Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

You can find out more about the ESRB's rating system by clicking here.

But rating video games is a little more complicated than rating movies, due to their interactive nature — it's a bit more complex than giving a violent game an "R" and a non-violent game a "G."

In addition to ratings that appear on the packaging of every game submitted to the ESRB — and, therefore, games carried by the nation's leading retailers — the board uses "Content Descriptors" that specify what gamers and parents should expect to encounter when playing a given game.

ESRB Content Descriptors

Alcohol Reference — Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages

Animated Blood — Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood

Blood — Depictions of blood

Blood and Gore — Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts

Cartoon Violence — Violent actions involving cartoon-like situations and characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted

Comic Mischief — Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor

Crude Humor — Depictions or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including "bathroom" humor

Drug Reference — Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs

Edutainment — Content of product provides user with specific skills development, or reinforcement learning, within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product.

Fantasy Violence — Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters, in situations easily distinguishable from real life

Informational — Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text.

Intense Violence — Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons and depictions of human injury and death

Language — Mild to moderate use of profanity

Lyrics — Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music

Mature Humor — Depictions or dialogue involving "adult" humor, including sexual references

Mild Violence — Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations

Nudity — Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity

Partial Nudity — Brief and/or mild depictions of nudity

Real Gambling — Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency

Sexual Themes — Mild to moderate sexual references and/or depictions. May include partial nudity

Sexual Violence — Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts

Simulated Gambling — Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency

Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed — Intended for very young ages

Strong Language — Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity

Strong Lyrics — Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol or drug use in music

Strong Sexual Content — Graphic references to and/or depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity

Suggestive Themes — Mild provocative references or materials

Tobacco Reference — Reference to and/or images of tobacco products

Use of Drugs — The consumption or use of illegal drugs

Use of Alcohol — The consumption of alcoholic beverages

Use of Tobacco — The consumption of tobacco products

Violence — Scenes involving aggressive conflict

Online Rating Notice

Online games that include user-generated content (e.g., chat, maps, skins) carry the notice "Game Experience May Change During Online Play" to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB.

Gaming Lingo

Gamers speak their own language. It's been developing for decades as the gaming community has gotten bigger and more defined.

If you've ever heard someone gush over a game's "co-op" mode, or complain that their girlfriend cost them a "frag," this video game lingo cheat sheet is for you.

A.I. (Artificial Intelligence): This is the intelligence of a character or vehicle controlled by the computer — an NPC or non-player character. In a racing game for example, the artificial intelligence of the cars the player is racing against, gives them the ability to try and beat the player by racing better or more aggressively.

Co-op: A mode in some single-player games where multiple players can play cooperatively to complete the game.

Deathmatch: A mode of play popular in first-person shooters, where the goal is to kill or "frag" as many players as possible. Generally, the player with the most "frags" at the end of the game wins. In a team deathmatch, players are divided into two or more teams where the object is the same.

FPS (First-Person Shooter): A game genre played through the eyes of the player's character. Usually referring to an action game where the player uses force — via a gun or other weapon — to get through the game's levels. Popular in this genre are games like the Halo series, Doom series and Unreal, or Unreal Tournament series.

Frag: A "kill" or point in a first-person shooter, generally used in deathmatch games.

Game Boy: Nintendo's series of handheld gaming systems, including the Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advanced, Game Boy Advanced SP and Game Boy Micro. Not to be confused with Nintendo's latest handheld gaming systems: the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite.

Headshot: Literally a weapon shot to the head of another player or non-player character in a first-person shooter.

MMO (MMORPG): A massively multi-player game, or massively multi-player online role playing game. Games where hundreds of players inhabit the same game world simultaneously. This genre of game includes old and new classics like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Ultima Online.

Multiplayer: A game where more than one player plays or competes against other players and/or non-player characters. With consoles, this may refer to either a game where multiple players are playing on the same console, or online with other players. For PC games, it refers to games played with other players on a LAN, or through an Internet connection.

Newbie (Noob): A new player. A term generally used to describe new players to an MMO, or massively multi-player online game, like Everquest or World of Warcraft.

Nintendo DS (Lite): The latest handheld gaming console from Nintendo, the DS and DS Lite — a smaller, brighter version of the DS — features a touch screen players use to interact with games.

NPC (Non-Player Character): A character or vehicle controlled by the computer or video game console rather than by a player.

PS2 (PlayStation 2): Sony's follow-up to the PlayStation features the ability to play DVD movies and play games online.

PS3 (PlayStation 3): The latest home video game console from Sony, featuring a built-in Blu-ray DVD player, high definition capability, a robust online service that offers players the ability to connect and play online, and also to download games and other media.

PSP (PlayStation Portable): The long awaited handheld PlayStation uses an optical disk format, rather than cartridges, like Nintendo's line of handhelds. The PSP is capable of wirelessly connecting to the Internet for browsing, play and downloading, and can play movies, music and photographs.

RPG (Role-Playing Game): A game genre that generally features a long story line where players "build" their character over time, improving various statistics or attributes, and acquiring and utilizing equipment, all while working their way through the game's story. Popular games in this genre include the Final Fantasy series, the Baldur's Gate series, and the Legend of Zelda series.

RTS (Real-Time Strategy): A genre of game where players control large amounts of characters or armies. Generally, players are tasked with acquiring resources that can be used to purchase buildings, where various units or characters can be created. Because there are no turns, and the games occur in real time, it's referred to as a real-time strategy game. Popular games in this genre include the Warcraft series, Starcraft, Age of Empires series, and Command & Conquer series.

Sim: Short for "simulation," the term sim generally refers to any game in the SimCity and The Sims series of games. This term can also be used to describe other simulation games, ranging from airplane simulators to games like Roller Coaster Tycoon, where players build and control an amusement park.

Single-Player: A mode or game meant to be played by one player alone.

TBS (Turn-Based Strategy): Unlike an RTS, or real-time strategy game, a turn-based strategy game allows players to take turns plotting and planning their moves. These games are usually part board game and part warfare, as in the popular Disciples series.

Wii: Initially known by its code name "Revolution," the Nintendo Wii features wireless motion-sensitive controllers that react to players' movements. Play tennis by simply swinging the controller like a racket. The Wii also features an Internet connection for players to meet and play and download classic games from the Nintendo back catalogue.

Xbox: Microsoft's initial entry into the home video game console market came in 2001, with Xbox. Though it took second seat to Sony's PlayStation 2, the Xbox was a formidable competitor for the PS2, and featured two of the biggest hits in video game history: Halo and Halo 2.

Xbox 360: The follow-up to Microsoft's Xbox, the 360 was released a full year before the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3. The machine features wireless controllers and an optional hard drive for storing game information, downloaded games, demos, trailers and recent movies and TV shows.

Xbox Live: One of the Xbox and Xbox 360's biggest selling points, Xbox Live is a 24/7 subscription-based online service that connects players for competition, but also features a robust store where they can purchase classic and new arcade games, demos, trailers and movies and television shows.